Is Proprietary IoT Lock-in Unavoidable?

Editorial note: This article appeared in Linkedin on August 1st, 2016

I attended the Wearable / IoT Techcon in July. There were many good speakers who presented to an eager audience. My learning at this event can be summed up with two points: 1. IoT is vulnerable and 2. IoT lacks standards.

IoT (Internet of Things) has become a buzz term in the last few years. IoT refers to a connected network of physical objects including devices, vehicles, buildings, appliances, electronics, and more. In the world of IoT, objects can exchange information, initiate activities, or activate processes. The connectivity provides convenience, integration, and intelligence.

However, this exciting IoT world is vulnerable. Not only can hackers take control of your connected car, but also your smart home system, your digital wallet, or even your pace maker! For example in 2015, Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles after two security researchers demonstrated that they could remotely disengage the brakes and transmission of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Another example of wearable vulnerability was given by IBM speaker, Chris Poulin, that malware came from Fitbit’s Bluetooth infected your laptop though device synchronization. Such challenges are why IoT security was identified as the top one technology for 2017 & 2018 by Gartner.

Given the risks, one can see why security is a critical consideration in IoT and wearables. Chris recommended as a resource for eliminating IoT security risks and suggested the following strategic steps that businesses should take to mitigate threats:

  • Conduct an asset inventory
  • Update security policies to include IoT devices
  • Familiarize yourself with non IT connected devices

In addition to security, another fundamental problem is that IoT standards are being too slowly established. Many proprietary systems are in the market that will make interoperability difficult.

What is the current state of IoT standards? After researching on IoT standard bodies, Terry Hughes posted an article in April 2016  “Will industry muscle win in the IoT standards war?”. He concluded that, “There are many standards bodies, many competing initiatives, yet no universal IoT standards today,” and, “As we have seen in mobile, the race to standardization takes up to 20 years, and in the meantime IoT represents a huge market opportunity for technology companies to fill the standards vacuum.”

In my research, oneM2M seems to be the one standards body that is developing a comprehensive end to end IoT standards.  Many IoT products have their own protocols and APIs to connect smart devices and systems while standards are being formed. Given this environment, it would be shrewd for users and businesses to think twice about the price being paid with proprietary solutions.

My biggest question right now is “Is proprietary IoT solution lock-in unavoidable and what the impact it creates?” I would love to hear your thoughts.